With Passover quickly approaching, I thought it appropriate to start the conversation regarding the subject of the Seder, the Israelite exodus from Egyptian slavery. The “Passover Seder” as we know it now, was not created until the 8th-9th century CE, relatively late considering the Exodus was said to take place sometime around 1400 BCE. The Pesach sacrifice, which predates the seder, existed for far longer, but was tied to the cultic rituals of the Temple, until its destruction. What kind of criticism, then, can we give the story itself, and the ritual itself, considering the historical distance? Biblical scholars of the New Testament, for example, criticize the synoptic gospels as they have been dated as written two generations after the life and death of Jesus (this would be the equivalent of charging you to write your grandfather’s life story). This explains the gaps in Jesus’ life, as well as the usage of typology, the use of verses from the Tanakh as “filler,” to make the story appear to connect to previous biblical narratives. If we take the same criticism, can we not also wonder about those charged with chronicling the Exodus narrative faced with the same voids in need of “filler”?
Additionally, there is, to date, no archaeological evidence of Israelite slavery in Egypt. This is troubling because, a) Israelites were said to be slaves for over 400 years, and b) Egypt has always kept strong records of their conquests and successes. There are theories of connections between the Joseph story and the Hyksos invasion of Egypt, wherein foreign leaders invaded and conquered Egypt and brought about years of peace and prosperity. This would be the kind of government in place that would allow for an Israelite to rise to such a powerful position of viceroy. It is also theorized that when the Egyptian monarchs of the New Kingdom took over, there was a “purge” of foreigners, which could explain the rise of a “new king” who thought so poorly of Israelites. What do these aspects do to our understanding of the Exodus and the legitimacy of it as a historical narrative? So much of our liturgy is based upon the redemption from slavery. In fact, there are verses in the Torah which base the purpose of Shabbat itself as a reminder of this event. What does this do for our connection to our liturgy and holiday celebrations that rely upon the Exodus as a foundation?
Share you thoughts, friends. What do these questions and suggestions spark in your minds? Let us discuss!